• A California-based millennial earning six figures says he'd need to triple his income to feel "rich."
  • High home prices, the costs of surrogacy, and student debt have made his income feel insufficient.

If Christopher Stroup's only priority was maximizing his savings, he might not be living in the Los Angeles area.

The 33-year-old financial advisor, who's based in Santa Monica, California, made roughly $130,000 last year, according to a document viewed by Business Insider. However, he said he's still paying off his student debt and working toward his savings goals for a down payment on a home, starting a family, and retirement. That's why he feels far from "rich," he said.

"Versus the traditional arc of life, I feel behind financially," he previously told BI via email.

To feel "rich," Stroup estimated that he'd need an annual income of about $400,000 to $500,000 a year — more than triple his 2023 earnings. At this income level, he estimated that he'd be able to meet his savings goals, enjoy life, and have some extra money left over.

If he can't boost his income to his desired level, Stroup said there's another thing that might help him feel rich: moving to an area with lower housing costs.

"I rent a 450-square-foot alcove studio in Santa Monica for $1,650 a month," Stroup previously told BI. "My sister, who lives in Cincinnati, rents a 1,600-square-foot home with three bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, and a full backyard for $1,800."

Stroup is among a group of Americans with six-figure incomes who are struggling to meet some of their financial goals. These people are sometimes called HENRYs — or high earners, not rich yet.

In recent years, as rising costs have weighed on people's finances, a $100,000-a-year salary hasn't gone as far as it used to, and the US housing market is among the top reasons. In recent years, high home prices and elevated mortgage rates have made homeownership unaffordable for many Americans. Business Insider has interviewed several Americans who have moved to different states in recent years in search of lower rents or mortgage payments.

As of 2022, a majority of millennials owned a home, according to an analysis published in 2023 by the apartment listing service RentCafe. But that offers little solace to millennials like Stroup, who are now faced with a more expensive housing market. Of course, for the majority of Americans who don't have a $100,000 income — the average annual full-time salary was about $84,000 as of March — affording a home is even more of a challenge.

Stroup shared whether he plans to move somewhere with lower housing costs, especially as he considers having a family, which could be particularly expensive for him.

Starting a family can be as expensive as a down payment on a home

Stroup said he sometimes jokes that he'd need to save $250,000 to buy a home, start a family, or become a partner at his firm — but he can pick only one.

The median sale price for a Santa Monica home was about $1.5 million as of April, per Zillow. A 17% down payment on a home of this cost would be roughly $250,000.

Additionally, Stroup, who's gay, said that family planning as a gay couple can be "extremely expensive" if surrogacy is opted for over adoption. He said the total costs of surrogacy can be well over six figures.

"These are the costs I could expect if I only wanted to have one child," he said. "In reality, I'd love to have at least two children, which means that serious financial planning needs to be considered."

And those are just the initial costs. In January, Business Insider estimated that it would cost parents about $26,000 to care for a small child in 2024.

Lastly, Stroup said the "buy-in" for partners at his firm begins at $250,000, which means he would have to pay this to "own a slice" of the firm where he works.

With all these expenses to consider, it might make sense for Stroup to move somewhere with lower housing costs. But he said there's at least one key reason he doesn't want to leave the Los Angeles area just yet: it has a strong LGBTQ+ community.

Stroup said he gained insight into the tradeoff between living expenses and community when he lived in Bakersfield, California for a few years.

"The cost of living in Bakersfield is substantially lower than Los Angeles, which did allow me to save and pay down debt," he said. "However, it wasn't really a welcoming environment as a gay man, and it meant sacrificing my personal life."

If Stroup were to move, he would have a lot of options because his job allows him to work fully remotely. He grew up in Troy, Pennsylvania, and he said he'd consider moving back there someday to be closer to family.

"Financially, the costs of housing and raising a family would be a lot lower there," Stroup said. "It would also allow me to lean more on my family, which would be a nice benefit while raising children."

For now, Stroup said he's grateful that he feels "wealthy" in three areas of his life that aren't tied to his bank account: freedom, control, and fulfillment.

He said his job allows him to have a significant amount of freedom and control over his day-to-day life, and that his work, which includes helping members of the LGBTQ+ community with wealth management, brings him "immense fulfillment."

"I currently check these three boxes, even if my income isn't at a point where I'd be considered 'wealthy' from a dollars and cents point of view," he said.

Are you making over $100,000 a year? Are you willing to share your story and the impact this income has had on your life? If so, contact this reporter at [email protected].

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